Monday, July 21, 2003

D.C. Circuit affirms FCC interpretation of Virginia contract law

In Starpower Communications, LLC v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the FCC's application of Virginia contract law to the agreement between Verizon and the CLEC Starpower regarding interconnection fees for telephone calls made to dial-up Internet service providers.

In terms of procedural history and choice of law rules, the Court explained the complications of litigating an interconnection agreement:

"In 1999 Starpower filed petitions with the [Virginia State Corporation Commission] seeking declarations requiring Verizon to pay for ISP-bound traffic under the two agreements. The VSCC declined jurisdiction in favor of the Commission. See 47 U.S.C. § 252(e)(5). Starpower then petitioned the Commission to preempt the jurisdiction of the VSCC and, when the Commission did so, Starpower filed a complaint with the Commission charging that Verizon had violated the agreements by failing to pay reciprocal compensation for ISP-bound traffic.

Because it stood in the shoes of the VSCC, the Commission was obliged to apply the contract law of Virginia, including the rule that "where the terms of the contract are clear and unambiguous, we will construe those terms according to their plain meaning." Starpower Communications, LLC v. Verizon Virginia, Inc., 17 FCC Rcd. 6873 ¶ 24 (2002) ("Order") (citing American Spirit Ins. Co. v. Owens, 261 Va. 270, 275, 541 S.E.2d 553, 555 (2001))."

Nothing is ever easy for CLECs looking to enforce their rights against the ILECs.

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